A provocative conversation broke out on one of the discussion groups I monitor last week. “I’m curious how you and others you know are using ‘LinkedIn.com.'” the person asked. “For me, I like who’s in my network, [and] keep asking others to join; but overall I find it to be very static.”
A static network — now there’s a new concept! But there’s a good deal of truth to wondering how these links work within the business environment. Sure I too have a modest network; I check out my Linked-in account once or twice a month to see who’s doing what. For me, this substitutes (poorly) for the water-cooler conversations earlier in my career, when I was surrounded by lots of co-workers. There was always the lunch-time gossip and the hallway exchanges . . . did I know that so and so was working on this new skunk-works project? Had I heard that another sales team just surpassed its revenue goals or that a particular key customer now had a new set of requirements?
While linking-in through Linked-in is a poor substitute for the chatter of the co-located workplace, it’s at least the beginning of a business conversation. It maintains its professional aura, boundaries, and rules, in part by continuing to stove-pipe its connections, and not (yet) mashing up its links and membership.
Not so with Facebook, now trying to take the “digital natives” (those who grew up with the Internet ant the Web) into the workplace. This move — blending the power of networks with mashups — is raising a number of eyebrows. “Friend? Not? It’s One or the Other” Rob Pegoraro, the personal technology columnist wrote provocatively in the Washington Post last week.

You could stay in touch with your drinking buddies at MySpace, then schmooze with your business partners at LinkedIn.
But life isn’t always that neat. And when the private and professional overlap at these sites, you can spend more time worrying about your image than building your network.

To be sure Facebook has a slew of privacy setting — at least 135 according to Pegoraro — but having to define how I want to expose some of my activities to one group of friends and other actions to business colleagues adds complexity to what should be cast as a rather fluid interchange.
What’s missing to my way of thinking is not simply privacy but context. We all have our business personas and our personal personas. We have certain expectations when in a business context, others when in a social context, and still others when “being personal.” Many of our social networks are, in fact, rather complex.
To make these networks useful within a collaborative (and online) business environment, we need to be able to add (and manage) our business contexts. We need to be able to describe (and map) the business purposes for our social networks.